The Woman Who Washed Jesus’ Feet: Overcoming Shame

Posted on November 23, 2015


By David Ettinger

Note: This is a chapter from my book, Overcomers: 30 Stories of Triumph From the Bible. If you enjoy this chapter, there are 29 more of a similar nature. Makes for a perfect Christmas gift, and is also ideal for unbelievers in your life you are trying to reach with the Gospel, but in a non-aggressive way. Overcomers is available digitally for $2.99 at Amazon and Barnes and Noble & Noble, and of course in the traditional format. For an autographed copy, please contact me on my Facebook Page.

wash feetSinner!

The name washed over her like a wave in a thunderstorm, assuring her condemnation, deepening her shame.


The word hounded her every step, proclaiming her guilt, dooming her soul. Of course, Neriah[1] knew, the people of the Galilean village of Nain who labeled her with the hateful epithet were absolutely right. She was a prostitute. A professional one. And therefore a habitual one. Though she hated it, she made her livelihood by catering to the cravings of Hebrew and Roman men alike, and thoroughly believed that she could not survive without the more-than-sufficient income she acquired from her chosen profession.

And yet, that horrible word …


Appropriate as it was, it labeled her with an identity that carved her soul into tiny pieces.

But this morning was different. She had slept well the night before, a gift from one of her longtime clients. It was still light the previous day when he knocked.

“Gerah!” she said in a mesh of surprise and annoyance. “Are you mad? You know not to come to me before the sun goes down.” He just stood there. “What’s wrong with you?” Without waiting for an answer, Neriah pulled him into the house. “Now, what is this all about?”

Gerah looked mesmerized. “I am not sure.”

“Come, Gerah, the sun has overcome you. Sit on my bed.” She led him there. “Give me a moment,” Neriah said, “while I put some perfume on.” She turned toward her alabaster jar of ointment.

“No, Neriah. You do not have to.”

She faced him. “Then what are you here? And what is wrong with you?”

Gerah took a deep breath to gather himself. “Tell me, Neriah,” he said, his eyes distant, his words unsteady. “Have you ever heard about the Rabbi from Nazareth? This man called Jesus.”

“Of course I have. Just about all my clients know him. They see him whenever they travel throughout Galilee. What about him?”

Gerah struggled. “Today, there was a funeral …”

“What about it?”

“A widow … I had seen her in the marketplace.”


“Does she have a name?”

“I do not know it. She has a son … had a son … has a son …”

“What are you babbling about, Gerah? Out with it!”

“All right, Neriah. Here it is. I was leaving the marketplace earlier today and came upon a funeral procession. I stepped aside to let it pass and overheard two women talking. The funeral was for an eighteen-year-old young man. The only son of his mother.”

“I think I know who you are talking about. May God have mercy on her.”

“He did.”

Neriah scrunched her face. “What do you mean?”

“Out of nowhere, it seems, the Rabbi, Jesus, and his men walked up to them. Everything stopped.” Neriah was fascinated by Gerah’s story. “The Rabbi went straight to the widow and said, ‘Do not cry.’ He then approached the coffin, placed his hand on it and said, ‘Young man, I say to you, get up!’ ”

Neriah was stunned. “Next, Neriah, and I swear to this, the young man sat up and began to speak! The men carrying the coffin lowered it and retreated. The boy then rose and embraced his mother.”

“Are you dizzy, Gerah? What kind of story is this?”

jesus raisesUnexpectedly, Gerah rushed her and challenged her face to face. “It is the truth, Neriah! I could never have made up such a story. Go to the marketplace now, while it is still light, and you will hear people talking about it.”

He released her. “I am not sure why I came, Neriah, but I felt led to tell you.”

With that, he walked out the door. Neriah was left alone, startled and shaken. And suddenly, something started rising in her soul she had not felt for years. Hope. “I must see this man tomorrow,” she determined in the emptiness of her home.

She knew what she must do. Peace covered her that night as she slept. Rising early the next morning, she felt fully rested and alive. Then the tears started. There was sweet release in her weeping. As she dressed, Neriah concealed herself meticulously, as she had done for years. She knew what would happen if she was recognized in public.

After making her way to the marketplace, disappointment started to slow her steps. Approaching a metalworker with whom she had previously done business, Neriah mustered the courage to speak.

“Good morning, sir,” she said. “Tell me, have you see the Rabbi today?”

“You mean the one who raised the young man?” Neriah’s heart skipped. “No, he has not been here.” Neriah was crushed. “Though,” the man continued, “I know where he will be.”

“Please tell me, sir.”

“Simon the Pharisee invited him to his house for lunch. We all plan to go there to see him.”

Neriah turned to leave with new determination. Returning home, she sat on the side of her bed, wondering what to do next. I must see him! I must. And yet, to enter the house of a Pharisee …

Regardless. She had to.

Just before noon, Neriah decided to leave. However, before walking to Simon’s home, she had the strangest inclination to remove her heavy garments. Something inside nudged her to present herself to the Rabbi just as she was. She felt strangely emboldened. Walking past her dresser as she left, she eyed an alabaster jar full of precious ointment and took it; she would anoint the Rabbi’s head with it.

Soon at Simon’s house, her heart began to beat in fear, but she kept going. Neriah could see the looks of disgust on the men’s faces as she approached. All the better, because they scrambled, allowing her to pass easily.

Once inside, she looked at the table, and there he was. The Rabbi. She knew it was him. Her heart continued to beat ferociously.

As she approached him, she could still feel the hateful glares being slung at her, but she was undaunted. She no longer felt any shame. Her goal was the Rabbi. As she reached him, he looked up at her and smiled. Seeing he was eating, she knew she could not anoint his head, but noticed that he was reclining, his feet extended away from him.

wash jesus feet 2Neriah came to his feet and knelt. A sudden wave of emotion overcame her and she began weeping uncontrollably. Her tears began to drench the rabbi’s feet, and Neriah dried them with her hair. The Rabbi made no attempt to stop her. She opened the alabaster jar and began to pour some perfume on his feet, wipe them with her hair, then repeat the process. She had never felt such peace in her life, and yet her tears kept spilling out of her.

She then heard the Rabbi speak. “Simon,” he said, “I have something to tell you.”

“Please speak, Rabbi.”

“Simon, two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither could pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Which of them will love him more?”

Neriah felt the words pierce her, reaching deep into her soul and releasing her from her long years of sinful bondage.

“I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled,” Simon said grudgingly.

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. And then, miraculously, Jesus suddenly sat up and looked directly at Neriah. She felt as if she would explode as her heart began beating even more furiously. “Do you see this woman?” Jesus said, still addressing the Pharisee. “I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. From the time I entered, she has not stopped kissing my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven.”

Neriah froze at the shocking proclamation. And suddenly, her heart stopped racing. It was tranquil. At peace. Jesus then smiled at her. “Your sins, woman, are forgiven.”

saintNeriah shuddered, her euphoric soul shouting within her, but her tongue unable to speak.

And as if to make sure she fully understood, the Rabbi said it again. “Your faith has saved you, dear woman, go in peace.”

She looked into the Rabbi’s eyes and was overcome by the compassion that came flooding out of them. She had difficulty standing, so the Rabbi rose, took her hand, and helped her up. To Neriah, there was only the two of them.

“Go in peace,” Jesus assured her.

And in wonderful, glorious elation, Neriah suddenly found her strength. She began to leave, as the Rabbi had encouraged her to do, and headed to the door. She was oblivious to the hateful stares following her. She felt no shame.

Sinner? No more. The Rabbi had said so. From that day forth, she was His. Her old life was over. Her wicked ways were over. Her days of shame were over.

She would now triumph in the light of the Rabbi’s glory—sin and shame a thing of the past.

Neriah and You

Neriah was a “sinful” woman.

The fifteen-verse section (Luke 7:36-50) that speaks about her tells us four times that she was a sinner (vv. 37, 39, 47, 48)—and with it, the deep shame that came from her sinfulness.

What about you? Have you engaged in shameful behavior in your past? You have come to know Christ as your Lord and Savior, but still cannot shake the shame of younger days? And, you wonder, Must I always carry the shame of my past?

The answer is no!

As God’s adopted child through faith in Christ (John 1:12), you “will never be put to shame or disgraced” (Isaiah 45:17). You can feel absolutely free to come before Jesus and say, “In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness” (Psalm 31:1).

Notice one common word in both verses: “never.” God is clear that if you belong to Him, you will suffer no shame. This is not talking about embarrassment. Of course circumstances in your life may cause you embarrassment—tripping clumsily in front of one hundred people comes to mind—but this is not the kind of shame referred to here. What Isaiah and King David are referring to is the shame and disgrace of sin. Sin comes in many forms and some—humanly speaking—are worse than others. For instance, yelling out a wrong word when you’re cut off in traffic does not carry the same consequences as years of sexual promiscuity. The so-called shame of the first passes quickly; that of the latter often lingers years.

Overcomers CoverAnd yet, the Lord is adamant: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame” (Romans 9:33, italic added). Again, the “shame” being referred to here is sin, and God says that the shed blood of Christ on the cross has removed your shame and sin.

But, you may be asking, why is this so?

The answer is simple: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Shame can only come when there is condemnation for sin. Remove the condemnation and shame flees. This is exactly what happened with you when you gave your life to Christ. Condemnation vanished, and with it, your shame. Additionally, your “former self,” that which committed such sinful acts, no longer exists. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, you are told, “If anyone is in Christ, he [or she] is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” In other words, the person you were is dead!

And that’s pretty final. So, where is shame? Where is disgrace? You lived a pretty sinful life, huh? Well guess what? That life is dead and buried. And with it, your shame.

In accepting Christ as your Savior, you have banished shame.

Once and for all!

[1] Character not named in the Bible. Name added to enrich story.